11 February 2024

Remembering Jean Dorothy de Villiers, 07 Apr 1939 - 31 Jan 2024

 As I prepared thoughts about Jean to share at the time of her memorial, my thoughts turned to a comment by her son Etienne who said that God must have messed up because why do people not live hundreds of years now? Methuselah, an Old Testament patriarch lived 969 years, so why did Jean die so young? I mused on how our measurement of time might have changed since Lamech's days, but this is a subject for another discussion!

On the morning of the memorial I happened to listen to an article Peace and Joy, Not Grief, Dominated My Heart. Why? in the Feb 2024 Liahona magazine and shared a paragraph with Jean's family. This is an account of a family who lost their father due to Parkinson's disease. Then as I continued to listen, I noticed that it mentioned the hymn 227 There is Sunshine in my Soul Today that we sang to open this service and I shared that with the family. Such a coincidence!

I remember so many things that my mother used to tell me. Like 'Do not walk on the road in the middle of the day with bare feet because you will be hurt.' Guess what - Yep! I walked on the road with bare feet. And yep! my feet got sore because the road was hot, and sometimes the eina was because of a duiweltjiedoring (devil thorn or Tribulus terrestris). I learned that it was wisdom to listen to what my mother counselled. It would be far better for me to learn from running on the road barefoot and realising the value in following my mother's counsel than for me to not obey when she said 'Do not put your hand on the hot plate of the stove because you will burn yourself.' If I did this, I could be seriously injured and if the stove were really hot, I might even lose my hand. 

My thoughts went back to Adam and Eve. God put them into the Garden of Eden that was truly wonderful and beautiful. In Genesis where we read of this, we learn that He made the 'great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.' I clearly have a lot to learn because animals do not listen well to me, but they evidently understood Him and were fruitful and did multiply and I have really enjoyed seeing wonderful living things in the Namib Desert and in our forests, and all of our types of landscape. It is amazing how much abundant life there is in the desert! I smile as I often share how fortunate I am to have chosen to follow the botany side of my BSc degree rather than the zoology side - photographing plants is so much easier than photographing many animals! Wind, depth-of-field-of-focus, and light might be a problem, but at least the plants stay put! Tortoises are not too bad, but almost all butterflies, lizards, birds, fieldmice, and fast animals are really difficult to photograph - I take my hat off to those who take such magnificent photographs of the exceptionally remarkable and beautiful animals created by our Creator.

I have spent a lot of time in the Namib Desert but I have never seen rain. However, on one occasion we were there shortly after rain and I have a special memory of driving in the desert and seeing that the dunes were green! I usually saw only wind-blown sand that formed the dunes and as we arrived at the green dunes and looked with a bird's-eye-view we could see a lot of open sand that was simply hidden from our view by the blades of grass. This brought to mind a memory of one of the things that my mother often quoted 'It takes the effort of every blade of grass to keep the meadow green.' Memories like this are special because it reminds me that my mother may be dead, but her memory lives on as I reflect on the wise things that I learned from her. Her spirit lives on, and also she is present in my life because of her influence in my life.

God then created man - male and female - and 'blessed them, and God said unto them, 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.' He put them into a garden planted eastward in Eden with 'every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.' He instructed Adam to tend and to keep the garden, and that 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.' After this, Eve was created as an help meet for Adam. We know the story of how Eve was tempted by the serpent saying 'your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.' Eve 'saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.' 

And - death was introduced because Adam and Eve did partake of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And they were cast out of the garden of Eden, and instructed to till the earth, with the opposition of thorns and thistles and all, and to eat their bread by the sweat of their face - and Eve became the mother of all living. We learn in 2 Peter that a day in the Lord's time is as a thousand years, so Adam and Eve, and even Methuselah, died within the day of mortality that each partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil when he ran barefoot on a hot road or a devil's thorn or some other transgression. Each one if us has gained a knowledge of good and evil by transgressing some instruction and receiving the consequences of a choice - and we will all die within our day of mortality.

I often share how sure I am that our loving Heavenly Father did not want His children to not have a knowledge of good and evil! Just like loving parents want their children to not hurt their feet on a hot road or devil's thorn, but know that they probably will and want them to learn about choices and consequences, God wants His children to be able to distinguish between good and evil and it is His hope for us is that we will desire to choose to do good, and to not choose evil. In the garden of Eden there was no evil, no lack, no opposition, no bitter, no pain, no sickness, no death. They could not have a knowledge of these while in the presence of God who wants His children to become like Him, and they could not have children because they had not yet fallen to the mortal state. We have an eternal journey - and this life from birth to death is simply part of that journey. 

Jesus of Nazareth shared the parable of the talents. He told of a man travelling into a far country and entrusting one servant with five talents, one with two talents and one with one talent, according to their several ability. Two of these servants then traded with the talent, or added five and two talents to their five and two, and one feared the austerity of his master and hid his talent. After some time he returned and called for an accounting. The one with ten talents was commended 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.'. The one with four talents received the same commendation. But the one who had buried his talent was reprimanded for not having at least invested the talent to get some interest on the investment, saying 'Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' I am confident that if the man with one talent had traded and doubled his talent, he would have received the same commendation and if either with five or two talents had buried them, they would have received the same reprimand  

May we be fruitful and multiply, and replenish that with which we have been endowed.

I was struck this morning while reading Romans 8:28 'And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.' Then I noticed a note that I have made about three years ago regarding verses 6 to 7. 'For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.' I noted that being carnally minded includes the amount of time given to carnal things as well as the amount of time given to spiritual things. It is not mutually exclusive. It is not a sin to eat and enjoy our food, nor to work and enjoy our work, or to play or perform or watch sport or entertainment or art and enjoy it. Too much focus on these things can become evil. The thing is to give a very good amount of time to loving and serving God and performing His work and drawing close to Him and enjoying that!

It is so good to be able to use the Gospel Library app on my phone. I tend to do far more highlighting and notes than I could easily do in the hard copy scriptures that I used as a younger fellow. I have such a very long way to go to reach the level of Heavenly Father, but He wants me to have a godly walk and conversation, walking in holiness before Him. I love an insight that I received from the Spirit years ago - anyone who repeated the Lord's prayer in school like we did during every assembly, or at any time in the past or now, is acknowledging that we have a Heavenly Father, and that He has a kingdom, and so we each have noble duties and responsibilities as sons and daughters of the King of Heaven - princes and princesses! Everyone who worships the God of Abraham, whether they call Him God, Heavenly Father, Jehovah, Elohim, Allah, or whatever, is serving the same one God - the same God to whom Jesus of Nazareth, our Messiah, constantly directed all glory.

It is recorded in John 17 that Jesus Christ said of His disciples 'That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.' Jesus Christ and His father are so perfectly united that they are referred to as the one God - a perfect team. They want us to be a perfect team - being one with each other and one with them. I have such a long way to go in becoming all that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ hope that I will become - I can but move forward step by step, day by day, small goal by small goal, thorn by thorn, and so forth. Just as Jesus did - and He is my example - I need to increase 'in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man' in order to become what He wants me to become. I suppose that even Jesus might have had a devil's thorn experience in his lifetime in Bethlehem, or Nazareth, or somewhere since devil thorns probably occurred in the land of Israel in His day.

My progress started millennia before the day that I was born and will continue millennia after the day that I die. Just as the ring on my finger symbolises eternity as it has no beginning and no ending, so our lives are eternal. There are milestones along the way like birth, death, resurrection, judgement, but those are only points along the strait gate and narrow way. 

Jean said to me one day that it will probably be boring in the Celestial Kingdom because everyone would be the same! I could reassure her that we will all be equal, but certainly not the same. Artists will be artists, sportsmen will be sportsmen, intellectuals, accountants, shepherds, fishermen, carpenters, sailors, and whatever our gifts, each talent will go with us into the eternities. I am confident that Heavenly Father is not lacking in any talent or skill and He wants us to grow and become balanced in all strengths. Just as in the parable of the talents that I shared above. But I think that we will be able to still hold onto some special passions and gifts although lacking none.

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle - probably with far more than 1000 pieces - and there will be times that a piece goes missing because it fell under a chair, or one might be placed in the wrong position and look almost right but then the right piece will turn up and we will see that we had made a mistake and we will find the right place for the wrongly placed piece, and the picture will become more complete and pleasing as time passes. Some might not have had a chance to start their puzzle as they died as little babes. For some there will still be many pieces to be put in their places and for some they might be enjoying a very nearly complete puzzle and maybe some will have what certainly seems like a complete puzzle but due to conditions associated with age they might not see or hear or remember or sense everything so well anymore. Whatever our puzzle picture may be, it will be a picture of divine design that will be pleasing to us. Similarly, as our lives fall into place as we love Him and keep His commandments, we will feel the presence of the Comforter who shall testify of Christ, and guide us to all truth. We will feel comfort knowing that death is part of the cycle of life. In nature each living thing dies and becomes a benefit to others, as food, or nourishing or uplifting or building in some or other way. I remember my colleague commenting on flowers decorating a shopping mall - he said that he could see that they were artificial because they were too perfect. Real flowers would be chewed by beetles or worms. Death is not final, though, but it is an essential step along the journey.

Many years after my parents have passed on to the next stage of their eternal journey, I still have them with me in the memories of their counsel. They often reminded us that we are princes and princesses in Israel - I guess that our behaviour suggested that we needed constant reminders of that... There were some other things that they very frequently had us read like no contention, or Love at Home. Some phrases were frequently shared like 'A gentleman treats even a milkmaid as a lady', 'Don't think that you are so great - remember that a goatherd on the mountains of Transkei can probably speak more languages than you can', 'The world needs street sweepers - but more importantly, the world needs excellent street sweepers!', and as already mentioned, 'It takes the effort of every bladed of grass to keep the meadow green'. Your grief might well be accompanied by relief that the lingering or suffering is over. We can, and should, be hopeful and not hopeless. The influence of our loved one will remain with us for all of life. We can also find hope in the knowledge that we can be reunited for all of eternity through the sealing ordinances of the priesthood. 

I am strongly impressed by how the Gospel is being preached to every creature. As I have shared our South African history with visitors, the Spirit whispered to me that, for all of the faults of colonisers around the world, they have taken the Bible, Torah, Qur'an and the religion of the God of Abraham to all parts of the world, as well as education, health, industry, technology, and so many things that have fulfilled to promise to Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed. I have been particularly impressed by how millions of Saints of every kindred, tongue and people all around the world have been studying the same things together this past week. I remember being impressed when I visited a congregation in Italy in 2001 and they were learning in Italian precisely the same lesson material as I had learned with my family in Cape Town. Similarly in Berlin, Germany in 2005, although there were enough English speaking saints that we learned together in English. I have also enjoyed learning in various units in England the same things that my family was learning in Cape Town. That is one example of being one as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

This past week we have learnt from 2 Nephi 2 where it talks of Adam and Eve needing to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in order to be able to have children, and how this was part of the opposition that is needed in all things, the sweet and the bitter, and how 'Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.' We have the great ability to act and not only to be acted upon. It talks of how the Messiah is part of that joy as He came and redeemed us from the fall so that our bodies that die physically will be reunited with our spirits in the resurrection, and just as Adam and Eve were sent out of God's presence in the garden of Eden, we were separated from God when we were born, and we will re-enter His presence to be judged. His hope is that we will have become such that He can say 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.' 

It is my testimony that we lived before we were born - individuals, children of Heavenly Parents, male, female, potential shepherds, fishermen, carpenters, tax collectors, sales people, shop managers, bead artists, creative people like Jean, botanists like me, or whatever, and that we chose there to follow the plan presented by our Heavenly Father and not to follow the alternative plan presented by Lucifer. We then came to this mortal stage of life where Lucifer and his angels invite and entice us to be miserable like unto himself. I cannot see why anyone would want to be miserable, but they are not necessarily told that the choice that they are being tempted to make will make them miserable - but if something sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is! Some become slaves to addictions. Some become miserable because they compare themselves to others and envy or covet what they do not have instead of rejoicing in the bounteous blessings that they do have. Some desire to be thieves, murderers, adulterers, liars, deceivers, and get great excitement as they suppress others or enslave others or hurt others. 

Heavenly Father wants us to treat everyone as we would want to be treated. I have a special memory of being with a Franciscan monk in a room in East London during 1974 after he had preached in the Catholic chapel - who knows if someone reading this might have been in that room with the group of young people who were meeting with him. Somehow I felt impressed to share that John told us that if a man says that he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar. Jesus told us that the two great commandments are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength; and that we must love our neighbour as ourself. Then I shared what the Spirit taught me at that moment - it has to start with me loving myself in order to love my neighbour as myself - and we need to love our neighbour whom we can see - then that is part of what confirms that we love the Lord our God whom we cannot see. 

Some of us die at birth, some as infants, children, youth, adults, or geriatrics. Some die as a result of accidents, some after lingering and painful afflictions, some simply of natural causes. Each and every one will continue to learn and grow beyond death. That is the wonderful message of the Gospel that has been restored in its fullness in the latter days. There is a lot of good and truth in the world, but the Lord has said that He has restored the true and living Church with which He is well pleased, speaking of them collectively and not individually, for He cannot look upon with the least degree of allowance. I pray that I will always be an example of the believers, bearing witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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